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Coming alive to the cyber war threat

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By Momin Iftikhar

The world today finds itself in the twilight zone of warfare. The military capabilities that came into being as a result of industrial revolution are fast becoming dependent upon the innovations created by the Cyber technology. While the destruction oriented firepower weapons and paralysis causing mechanization based mobility were the dominant tools of the First and Second World Wars respectively, computer technology has emerged as the force dominating the scene of warfare in the twenty first century. Operation Desert Storm is considered by many as the fusion point of the two epochs.

As we become increasingly dependent on the use of cyber space, not only in the realm of military but also in all spheres of vital national activity, the vulnerability to offensive exploitation by hostile regimes and terrorist networks become manifestly apparent.

In this context a warning note was recently sounded by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) while unveiling its prestigious annual publication of Military Balance 2010; indicating in no uncertain terms that cyber attacks may become the weapons of choice in the future conflicts.

The venerated institution, known for its assessment of military capabilities of various nations at global level and dynamics of defence economics, underscored the prevailing state of denial that marks the response by most of the contemporary states to the gathering threat. John Chipman, the Director General of the IISS drew attention to this colossal lapse: “Despite evidence of cyber attacks in recent political conflicts, there is little appreciation internationally of how to assess cyber conflict.

We are now, in relation to the problem of cyber-warfare, at the same stage of intellectual development as we were in the 1950’s in relation to the possible nuclear war,” he warned. Cyber warfare is not an end all; it is a component among a clutch of capabilities related to the cyberspace offensive and defensive operations that are bracketed under the umbrella of Information Operations (IO).

A perfect description of IO is still to be coined, the concept being still fluid and developing various dimensions, but suffice to say that these operations spawn the entire spectrum of conflict from peace to war and back, affecting adversary information and information systems while defending one’s own information and systems.

The core capabilities comprise psychological operations (PSYOPS), military deception (MILDEC), operations security (OPSEC), computer network operations (CNO) and Electronic warfare (EW).

The IISS report has drawn attention towards the changing nature of the conflict involving the rise of cyber warfare. “Future state on state conflict may be characterized by the use of so called asymmetric techniques,” declared its Director General. “Chief among these may be the use of cyber warfare to disable a country’s infrastructure, meddle with the integrity of another country’s internal military data, try to confuse its financial transactions or to accomplish any number of other possibly crippling aims”, he said.

The information warfare threat centered around the cyber capability is no hollow concept; Our considerable and increasing reliance on computer technology in the realm of the civil as well as military has made it a source of vulnerability presenting itself for exploitation by the concerned quarters. The advanced countries are exposed to even greater degree and they are showing the awareness and making substantial technological investment in exploiting the cyber edge in defensive and offensive operations.

In UK, the Ministry of Defense published a ‘green paper’ within a week of the IISS report calling for a review of cyber-war strategy and outlining plans for a major Strategic Defence Review.

“Cyber Space, in particular, poses serious and complex challenges for UK security and for the armed forces’ operations. The most sophisticated threat is from established and capable states but cyber eliminates the distance, is low cost and is anonymous in nature, making it an important domain, not just for hostile states but terrorists and criminals alike,” articulates the paper. US with its increasing reliance on the cyber warfare have been at least a decade ahead. As early as 2000 it unveiled Joint Vision 2020, elevating the information warfare to one of the two essential elements for success in future military engagements.

Our own neighbourhood is bristling with computer expertise and applications and, as in advanced countries, the cyber warfare is emerging as one of the primary domains of any future conflict in the subcontinent.

Market driven dependence of US and other advanced countries on India have resulted into formation of linkages that promise to turn the country into major player in the computer economy.

Outsourcing between India and the US, in particular, has resulted for Indian firms to move in command of computer technology from less to more complex and has enabled them to compete for investment opportunities in a fiercely competitive global scenario.

The importance to convert prowess in the cyber technology into military applications is not lost on the Indians who have barely wasted any time in modifying their military doctrine to incorporate the capabilities provided by the new technology.

Indian army chief recently unveiled the new military doctrine where cyber warfare is to form an important component of the military thought and capabilities. “Harnessing and exploitation of technology also includes integration of network centricity, decision support systems, information warfare and electronic warfare into our operational plans,” he said while outlining the five contours of the new Indian military doctrine.

Given a considerable pool of talented manpower, and fairly wide availability of off the shelf hardware, prospects of harnessing cyber technology to defend and project our national security concerns remain bright.

Awareness must come that with our inevitable and growing dependence on the cyber technologies the country has become precariously vulnerable to attacks in the cyber world where geographical boundaries are meaningless.

The shape and malevolence of the menace is adequately explained by Jack Goldsmith who wrote in the Washington Post regarding the cyber attack capabilities of the Pentagon, rating its National Security Agency’s (NSA) code breaking and eavesdropping capabilities as top of the world.

According to him the NSA “is also in the business of breaking into and extracting data from offshore enemy computer systems and of engaging in computer attacks that, ‘disrupt, deny, degrade or destroy the information, found in these systems.”

The cyber threat is clear and present. The need is for the formulation of a national vision that can harness the abundantly available resource to the dictates of national security in the realm of civil and the military.

Courtesy: The News

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